In a previous post, I talked about the habit of taking notes and how it can reduce distractions and stress. In this post, I am going to tell you how to get into the habit and stick to it. But first, a little story!

My friend Ravi has a rule at his home. No one recycles newspapers without checking with him. You might wonder why. This is because Ravi writes notes and other important information on newspapers. At the end of the month, when it is time to recycle, he scans all the newspapers to ensure that he does not lose valuable information.

While this may sound inefficient, it works for Ravi. This is a habit he has comfortably settled into.

Most of us are victims of failed attempts at sticking to habits. We start taking notes enthusiastically. We try to stick to the habit of taking notes. However, we never read them again or use them. We slowly give up. What is happening here? We know these are good habits. Why do we abandon them?

Habits and Your Brain

Research out of MIT indicates that there is a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit: a trigger, a routine and a reward. The trigger and the reward are critical for setting and maintaining habits.  For example, you may set yourself up to write a note at the end of every meeting (meeting is the trigger) and help yourself to a candy at the end of the note-taking. This completes the trigger-routine-reward cycle. This helps the habit take hold.

However, this habit will still not stick unless you see a tangible benefit. A candy could help you start, but it will not help you persist. You may write notes, but unless you use them and benefit from them, you will drop the habit of taking notes.

Using Your Notes

In order to use your notes regularly, your notes must be available when you need them. A notebook might do the trick here. You can carry it around. I call this ‘mobility’.

More importantly, you should be able to get to the exact piece of information at the right time. I call this ‘findability’.

If you want to use a notebook and write your notes by hand, you could use this method suggested by Tim Ferriss to make your notes findable. But you will find that things get complicated very fast.

The better way of doing this is to use note-taking apps like Evernote and Google Keep. These apps let you write notes on your browser, desktop or mobile. You can search through your notes from your mobile wherever you are. This will make your notes findable. You will start using your notes more and more. This, in turn, will help you stick to the habit of taking notes.

Conclusion

In summary, to get into the habit of taking notes and to maintain the habit:

  • Understand how habits work. Setup a trigger and a reward. Rewards can be short term (candy) or long-term (usability)
  • Short-term rewards alone will not help. You need to use your notes. If your brain does not see benefits, you will drop the habit of taking notes.
  • Pick a note-taking tool that has mobility and findability.

But is findability alone enough? How about if you are in the middle of a client meeting and you need information quickly. How do you access your notes even faster? That is a topic for a future post. Stay tuned!